Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Small Town Veterans Day Celebration in the Outback

I’ve lived a lot of places in the U.S., and I believe that living in a small town is the best. In a small town, you’re more than just a face in the crowd at events like a Veterans Day program. You know everyone around you and people know you. You’re there out of respect to friends and relatives, not just out of wanting to honor nameless “Veterans.” We have lots of local veterans from nearly all branches of service, but we were reminded by the emcee that there are more than 25,000,000 veterans living among us today. To all of you: THANK YOU!
This year’s program at Sutherland High School was no exception. Our American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary are very active in our community, and each year they sponsor young men and women to Cornhusker Boys and Girls State, and also the Junior Law Academy. They also sponsor the Voice of Democracy speech contest. All of these young people have the chance at the annual Veterans Day program to tell of their experiences and recite their speeches.

The president of Sutherland’s Student Council was also our representative at Girls State this year. She applied because of her love of politics, and she was elected as a Senator in the Girls State Legislature, and also had the opportunity to volunteer at the Child Advocacy Center for community service. As a member of the Legislature, she discussed wind energy and water rights, both important topics in Nebraska, and learned the power of compromise and the benefits of listening to different points of view.

The first representative to Boys State spoke about his involvement in Athletics (his Sand Volleyball team was champion!), and his time also serving as a Senator in the Boys State Legislature. His experiences led him to apply to be a junior counselor next year. He presented a top ten list of experiences at Boys State:

  1. Don’t lose elevator privileges (he housed on the 10th floor)
  2. 50 strangers can become best friend
  3. It’s a great feeling to be undefeated
  4. 6am wake up calls are no fun
  5. Avoid the spinning wheel of death (?)
  6. Asking strangers to vote for your candidate can generate strange looks
  7. Being elected to the legislature means you miss 25% of the speakers including Tom Osborne
  8. Vote for your towns candidates
  9. A three hour car ride to Lincoln takes six hours in a bus
  10. Your hometown is the best
The next Boys State speaker was told at Boys State that if you don’t like your experience, the good news is that it only lasts a week. But if you are loving it, the bad news is that it only lasts a week. His experience turned out to be the bad news. He found himself spending a week being immersed in things about Nebraska that he had never even heard of, and being with kids from towns he didn’t know existed. He served on the newsletter staff as a page designer, and as he wasn’t elected to an office enjoyed the many speakers that taught them and challenged their beliefs. This year, the Governor of Boys State was elected by only one vote, which showed them the importance of voting. His most memorable part of the week was the tour of the Nebraska State Capitol, which is a magnificent building.
The young lady who attended the Junior Law Cadet program was daunted by the thought of daily calisthenics, but soon learned to get over her shyness and make new friends. The program stresses the importance of teamwork, compromise and cooperation. They were required to keep their rooms spotless, right down to the hospital corners on the beds. She faced her fears, including firing a weapon for the first time, and enjoyed learning to drive a patrol car.
Sutherland's music program isn't perhaps as strong as it could be, but nonetheless, the Senior High Band performed some stirring marches for our enjoyment.
Staff Sgt. Gale Mayberry serves full time in the Nebraska National Guard with the 1074th Transportation Division out of North Platte, and has served two deployments to Iraq. National Guard members serve overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and are deployed stateside to such diverse duties as fighting wildfires in California and supporting hurricane recovery in Louisiana.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Armistice ending World War I, The War to End All Wars was signed. That day was named Armistice Day in honor of our WWI veterans. In 1954, the scope was broadened to include all Veterans, and in the first Veterans Day proclamation by president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, he said that it is to …Honor all veterans who served on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores… so that their effort may not have been in vain.

SSgt. Mayberry has served in many areas throughout the world that are not as developed as America. The worst areas that America has is better than their best areas. They yearn for the freedom and democracy that we have.
PFC RC O’Neal is a Sutherland Graduate and also serves with the National Guard. He told us about the Veterans serving because of a love for country and a love for the unbreakable brotherhood that is the armed forces.
The Elementary children (Sutherland is a K-12 district), performed patriotic music from their places in the stands.
The theme for the Voice of Democracy speeches was Heroes. The third place speech focused on the fact that there still are heroes in America today, whether in service to their community, in service to their country or people you look up to in your personal life.
The next young man, who had written the second place speech related a story of a Christmas morning in his home, when he helped his Grandpa deliver a present to His father that consisted of his Great Grandpa’s mementos from World War II. His father was moved to tears and that made him realize that there was something special about his great grandpas service in the war. People you see every day in your hometown may be a hero who did their job to protect their country. Heroes never die, but live on forever in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. He shared a quote that was also contained in the third place speech: A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero, he can say that he doesn’t like pie when he sees that there’s not enough to go around – Edgar Watson Howe
The winner of the Voice of Democracy contest presented a different view of the topic. True heroes are someone who does something dramatic that changes the world. In his mind, that means a veteran. What would the world be like if these men and women hadn’t answered the call and fought for us? Would we live free? Would other areas of the world live free? No, they can’t stop bullets like superheroes, but many took bullets for us, which is more of a sacrifice. Their service has granted us our freedom. Give the title Hero to the people who deserve it – our veterans.
The Senior High Choir sang God Bless America.
And then one of my favorite parts of the program. To the recorded music of the official songs of the branches of service, the Boy Scouts parade the flags and the service men and women of each branch stand. First the Army.
Then the Marines.
The Navy.
The Air Force.
And the Coast Guard. Sutherland hasn't produced many Coast Guard veterans. There are some, but none were in attendance today.
The program ended with a touching slide show set to the theme music from the movie Armageddon. It wasn’t the first remembrance of the day that brought a tightening of the throat and tears to the eyes.
Another heartfelt THANK YOU to all of our Veterans and Active Duty service men and women, and an appreciation to their families who bear the burden of their absence.
Thank you for stopping by. If you are enjoying your coffee in freedom, thank a Veteran.

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